Burma is to investigate whether police have committed abuses against Rohingya Muslims, the government has said, after officials promised that allegations of atrocities against members of the Muslim minority would be looked into.
The UN human rights office said in a report this month Burma’s security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned their villages since October in a campaign that “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
Burma has denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses in northern Arakan State, where many Rohingya live, and says a lawful counterinsurgency campaign has been under way since nine policemen were killed in attacks on security posts near the Bangladesh border on 9 October.
The military said last week it was setting up a team to investigate alleged atrocities by the security forces and the interior ministry followed that up on the weekend with a promise to investigate police.
The Home Ministry said in a statement a “departmental inquiry” would be conducted “to find out whether the police forces have committed illegal actions including violations of human rights during their area clearance operations.”
The ministry, which is controlled by the military, said action would be taken against personnel “who failed to follow instructions.”
“The UN report provides many detailed accounts of what allegedly happened, and that’s why an investigation committee was set up to respond to the report with evidence,” Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe told Reuters on Monday.
“The UN report includes very serious human rights abuses allegations against police in Myanmar including rape. But as we know, it did not happen,” he said.
Separately, five policemen have been sentenced to two months detention after a video appeared online showing them abusing Muslims during an operation aimed at rooting out suspected militants in Arakan State, Myo Thu Soe said.
In addition, three senior police officers involved in the case have been demoted, he added.
It is rare in Burma for security forces to be held accountable for abuses, or for such allegations to be investigated transparently, rights groups say.
Almost 69,000 Rohingyas have fled from Burma to Bangladesh since the security force sweep was launched in October, according to UN estimates.
More than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in the crackdown, two senior UN officials dealing with refugees fleeing the violence said last week.
A Burmese presidential spokesman said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people had been killed in the counterinsurgency operation.
Rohingya have faced discrimination in Burma for generations. They are not classified as a distinct group under citizenship laws and are regarded instead as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, entitled only to limited rights.
About 1.1 million Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Burma.
The violence has renewed international criticism that Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has done too little to help members of the Muslim minority.